There can be no doubt the November 2016 election changed a lot of things within a variety of fields. From political to business to community relations, the PR industry is finding itself in a rapidly changing environment. In the midst of all the drama and sound bites, community relations (CR) is increasingly important. Political and ideological views aside, let’s step into a community that has been pushed to center stage, even now, by political tensions, and has used these moments to increase awareness.
February 4, 2017: Following on the heels of the divisive 2017 election, of course, was the signing of an executive order restricting travel on persons from select Muslim majority nations. Here in Cincinnati, these events had a palpable impact on the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati.
The Islamic Center holds monthly Know Your Neighbor open house events, opening its doors for anyone to come visit, learn, and share experiences. One of the goals of the open house event are to increase awareness and understanding. The Center asks for RSVPs to plan and organize logistics for the monthly event, which usually averages between 80 to 100 attendees. One day before the February 4 open house, undoubtedly due to elevated political tensions, open house RSVPs shot up to 550, with even more people coming the day of the event.
Shakila Ahmad, president of the board of the Islamic Center, stated she was “surprised, but not surprised” about the turnout. “I think there was a lot of concern and empathy realizing that stereotypes and false information about Muslims has quite often been determining mass public opinion.” (Journal-News, Feb. 6, 2017)
Having attended this event, I can attest to the positive energy at the event. For me, seeing so many people there made it feel like a holiday celebration.
Outreach, outreach, outreach
There is no doubt there are complex challenges facing the Islamic Center and other organizations such as the Clifton Mosque or the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The need to challenge hate, stereotypes, and divisive political rhetoric and actions has increased in recent months. However, these groups are also working hard, often with limited resources and talent, to implement ongoing outreach programs. Many of these programs are collaborations with other organizations and institutions (churches, synagogues, temples, educational institutions, businesses, etc.) to increase awareness, understanding, and goodwill across our community.
Partnerships and communications between groups such as Interfaith Cincy and Franciscans Network, help in the outreach and community relations efforts. CAIR’s Cincinnati Chapter partnerships to hold interfaith dialogue series over a 4-week period, or The Islamic Center’s co-hosting event with Unity Production Foundation (UPF) and the Brueggeman Center for Dialogue at Xavier University for the Cincinnati film screening of The Sultan and The Saint, are just a couple of many events helping to build community relations, all with similar goals of promoting understanding, increasing awareness, and educating to challenge negative images and stereotypes.
With ongoing political rhetoric and actions bringing the American-Muslim community into an unprecedented spotlight, there are also ongoing opportunities for more outreach and educational efforts to build a more understanding, and stronger community. If there was a time for the power of community relations to come front and center, it is now.